An award-winning travel writer embarks on an African expedition to prove his love.
In 2007, Smith began a monumental trek walking the length of Africa, mirroring the trail that British explorer Ewart Grogan had taken more than a century ago. Grogan’s purpose was to prove his worthiness to the stepfather of his wealthy sweetheart Gertrude, who saw him only as an unemployed university dropout. Smith’s mission was to assess the current state of Africa—and to satisfy his obsession with Grogan—and also to alleviate a few last-minute, nagging reservations about his upcoming marriage to fiancée Laura. For both men, the exhaustive march from Cape Town to Cairo offered a physical token of commitment. Smith creatively dispenses Grogan’s history—parentless by age 19, he traveled the world while harboring an obsession with Africa. In reimagining the uniqueness of Grogan’s solitary journey up the Zambezi River, Smith dexterously interweaves it with his own turbulent courtship of Laura and the life-changing odyssey he hoped would quell his feelings of ambiguity about marriage. He sought to discover “some kind of equanimity in the tangle of self-doubt and hesitation I’ve woven in my head.” The author’s troubles along his journey—a “stifling” private cabin while crossing a massive lake, flirty locals, mountain gorillas—hardly compare to Grogan’s, who had limited and comparably antiquated means to battle swarming insects, frequent fevers, parasites, malaria, larceny and cannibal tribes. Employing an affable, conversational tone and including generous photographs, Smith provides an engrossing story that runs parallel to Grogan’s history. Most impressive is the author’s stark honesty. Even after completing the 4,500-mile journey, marrying the girl of his dreams less than a month later and fathering a daughter, Smith still admits to the sadness of “old freedoms fading” and realistically ponders the longevity of true love.
Smoothly written chronicle that’s part travelogue, part contemporary relationship commentary, and all heart.